This week's edition of Diamond Digits looks at a trade paying dividends on both ends, a superstar few folks are noticing, and a strange coincidence involving a pair of Hall of Fame-caliber hurlers.
The league ranks of Josh Hamilton of the Rangers in RBI and Edinson Volquez of the Reds in ERA, through the end of April. Why is that substantial? Because Volquez (along with minor league pitcher Daniel Herrera) was traded to Cincinnati for Hamilton in the offseason. It wasn't the most publicized trade at the time, but it was by far the most mutually advantageous swap of last offseason.
Hamilton was named the AL Player of the Month for April on the strength of a .330 average, six home runs and a major league leading 32 RBIs. His .604 slugging percentage ranked third in the AL (behind the equally surprising Carlos Quentin of Chicago and Tampa Bay's Eric Hinske), and in Texas history, only Juan Gonzalez drove in more runs (35 in 1998) in an April.
Proving that not everything ex-Reds GM Wayne Krivsky did was misguided, Volquez was the NL's most surprising find of the season's first frame, despite falling short of Arizona's Brandon Webb for the NL Pitcher of the Month accolades. He had the NL's lowest ERA (1.23) and opponents' slugging percentage (.238) for the month while placing second in wins (4), fifth in opponents' batting average (.198) and eighth in strikeouts (33). For good measure, Herrera has already climbed the ladder from Double A Chattanooga (3-0, 2.55 ERA) to Triple A Louisville (0-0, 7 Ks, 0 walks in seven scoreless innings).
National League-leading doubles total for Pittsburgh's Nate McLouth, reinforcing manager John Russell's spring decision of naming McLouth the starter over Nyjer Morgan. Previously overlooked outside of Pittsburgh, McLouth has been garnering his share of attention by being easily the majors' best center fielder this season, hitting safely in his first 19 games (the longest hitting streak in the majors this year) and ranking third in runs scored (28), fifth in total bases (77), eighth in slugging percentage (.606), ninth in RBIs (25) and 10th in home runs (7). Meanwhile, Morgan has batted just 32 times with four hits, two walks and one steal in three attempts.
The number of failed attempts to reach 350 wins for 42-year-old future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux. Coincidentally, it took the last pitcher reach that number, Roger Clemens, five appearances to get off of 349 wins too. Last season Clemens was also 0-3 with a 5.60 ERA and .301 opposing average in the Yankees losses in his four appearances before reaching the milestone. Like the rest of his underachieving team, Maddux has hit the skids, going 0-3 with a 5.54 ERA and .324 opposition batting average in his last four appearances, all resulting in Padres losses. Maddux's next scheduled start should be at home on Saturday against the equally struggling Rockies.
Matt Kemp, RF, Dodgers
While Andruw Jones and his $36.2 million contract continue to scuffle, Kemp is blossoming into a superstar. This week he showed exactly what kind of an impact he can have, batting .407 with a big league-leading 11 RBIs (including at least one in six straight games), and six steals in a week when his Dodgers won five of six games.
Chris Sampson, SP, Astros
In two starts at the back of Houston's rotation, Sampson allowed 10 earned runs and 20 base runners in 7 2/3 innings, raising his season's ERA and WHIP to 7.96 and 1.92 respectively. He allowed Brewers and Diamondbacks hitters a Chipper Jones-like .457 average, 66-points higher than the next worst in the majors, belonging to Seattle's Carlos Silva.
Rockies first baseman Todd Helton reached two major milestones last week, drawing his 1,000th career walk against San Francisco's Brian Wilson on Wednesday and hitting a double off of L.A.'s Esteban Loaiza for the 800th extra base hit of his career. Taken separately, those two milestones are somewhat interesting as Helton is the 92nd player to reach 800 extra base hits, and the 108th man to walk 1,000 times. However while he's the 53rd player to reach both figures, he's just the third in big league history to get there by the 12th season of his career, joining fellow first basemen Lou Gehrig (881 xbh, 1,007 walks) and Jeff Bagwell (835 xbh, 1,199 walks).
Filling in at second base for an injured Ian Kinsler, Rangers infielder German Duran hit his first big league home run on Sunday against Oakland's Greg Smith, a titanic solo blast deep into the stands in left center field at MacAfee Coliseum. A longtime resident of Fort Worth, Duran has displayed great power both in college, where he set a school record at Weatherford with 13 home runs in 2005, and last season in the minors where he was third in the Double A Texas League with 22 home runs for Frisco. Perhaps Sunday's blast will give manager Ron Washington some confidence in Duran, who is currently tied for the AL lead with four sacrifices in just 31 plate appearances (the men he's tied with, David Eckstein, Brendan Harris and Jose Lopez, each have at least three times as many plate appearances). With Texas' regular third baseman, Hank Blalock, out with a torn hamstring, Duran should finally get a chance to show that he belongs in the big leagues.